Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy Anniversary, You Turkey

Sapelo Island, GA - One of the many joys of relocating across the continent is the discovery of new places, new people, and new local lore. Sapelo Island, pronounced SAP-uh-low by the black descendants - still in residence - of Thomas (Father of Georgia's sugar industry) Spalding's slaves, is a beautiful Island 11 miles long by 2 to 3 miles wide, and reached only by a passenger ferry. A succession of White ownership after the great 'Late Unpleasantness' (my favorite local term for the "War of Attempted Secession") eventually lead to the island being sold in 1934 to tobacco magnate RJ Reynolds, Jr. Among the many tasks Mr. Reynolds undertook on Sapelo was to "consolidate" the existing Black communities of Hog Hammock, Raccoon Bluff and Shell Hammock into a single settlement at HH. But there was a whimsy to this chain-smoker. He added to the existing mansion and farm, but also built a movie theater on the second floor of the main dairy barn. (Forget about any smell of freshly-popped corn.) He hired Athos Menaboni to paint murals in his 'Circus Room' and pirate scenes in his basement. But it is a special commission for a special spouse that catches most visitor's eyes and fancies. By all accounts, there was precious little love lost between RJ Reynolds, Jr., and his third wife Muriel Marston Reynolds. RJ Jr., who died of emphysema in 1964 - he loved his Winstons, if not Muriel - presented his tertiary spouse one anniversary day with a specially designed commission by Fritz Zimmer: A Real Turkey of a Fountain. Little wonder then, that the divorce proceedings between the two were described as "bitter." When the divorce was finalized, Reynolds married a fourth wife, Annemarie Schmidt, and died before the end of the year. Muriel - that anniversary gift (and probably other insults) still in mind - continued to fight the divorce even with Jr's. remarriage and death. She lost, but the fountain - albeit dry - still stands today: a monument to traditional marriage and family values.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Go East, Young Man, Go East

Put your money where your bubble-gum is, Mr. Johnson; enlist in our Armed Forces, enlist.

The brisk breeze of a National Draft would blow most of these young elitists into the arms of the antiwar activists they find so divisive. What this nation needs - now more than ever - is not a specific military draft, but a two-year National Service requirement. No deferments. No excuses. Rich and poor; Left and Right. Everyone out of high school contributes. You may join the Armed Services, or rehabilitate our National Parks, or prepare and deliver hot meals to the elderly - but you will serve our Nation.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Silly Savannah Sunday

In honor of Steve Ditko's 80th! Birthday

Find your inner super hero!

(I was a card-carrying member of the M.M.M.S. - if you have to ask, you're too young...)

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Green Lantern
Iron Man
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Bible Tells Me So

Former Senator John Edwards has said his Southern Baptist background influences his stance on gay marriage:  The Presidential candidate is opposed.  For others, the Constitution also influences their stance on the same issue.

As a new arrival to the South - Savannah - I am pleased to see sensible, rational, compassionate thought flourishing still in North Carolina - namely within the heart and mind of the good Rev. Reggie Longcrier, pastor of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory.

This Holy Man nails it.

Are you listening, Senator?  America?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Monsters from the Deep

Some diseases are caused by bacterial monsters, and now we learn some of these creatures may have come to us from miles beneath the ocean's surface.

Recent Japanese oceanographic research at hydrothermal vents in the Pacific has revealed a striking genetic similarity between bacteria engaged in chemosynthesis at deep-sea vents and mammalian bacterial pathogens. This points to a direct evolutionary link between the bugs that make us sick and the bugs on the bottom of the sea.

Satoshi Nakagawa of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology said his team has revealed that vent bacteria in the pitch-black, superheated, methane and sulphide infused environment have developed the ability to be rather facile, free and loose with genes - dropping some, gaining others, mutating quickly to adapt to the extreme conditions at these volcanic hot-spots - exactly the traits a pathogenic invader would need to survive the ravages of a host's immune response. According to the evidence in the genome, some of these bacteria may have left life at the hydrothermal vents for a new one as a pathogen on the planet's surface.

And in our bodies.

How Lucky Do You Feel?

One from 'Column A', please.

A succinct, concise, lecture on the ramifications of our global discussion and actions regarding global warming. What this video lacks in snazzy graphics and eye-candied-mind-numbing editing is a terrifying glimpse at our future beyond current truths, however inconvenient.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Our Ally in Weight Loss

Never fear; Alli's here.

An OTC version of the prescription drug, Xenical, brought to us by the good folks at GlaxoSmithKline, is flying off the shelves at drugstores everywhere. FDA approved, this diet drug packs a punch for the women to whom it is clearly marketed, along with some nasty possible side affects - or "treatment effects" as the drug's website explains in understated detail. The chemical works by blocking the absorption of about a quarter of any fat consumed. This may lead to "bowel changes" described on the company's website as diarrhea, uncontrollable bowel movements and oily flatulence.
The excess fat that passes out of your body is not harmful. In fact, you may recognize it as something that looks like the oil on top of a pizza. (emphasis mine.)

Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work.


Remember: these comments are from their commercial website - presumably putting the brightest gloss on a fabulous product, and all in the name of easy weight loss for the great American Herd.

Olestra, anyone?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Cognitive Illusions

Believe none that you hear and only half what you see - a phrase often preached throughout my childhood by my parents, yet seldom practiced. The underlying lesson nonetheless: beware gossip; your eyes can deceive you. Avoiding mouthy busybodies was the easy part; the concept of an elasticity to reality - in any present moment - was unsettling.

Your eyes can deceive you. Optical Illusions. Visually perceived images which are deceptive and misleading. Mirages. Phantasms misguiding the mind, often leading to a cognitive illusion.

In his book, Inevitable Illusions : How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini writes:
In the world of perception an [optical] illusion is to reality what a fallacy is to reasoning: an argument that is not true but has the appearance of being so. There is always some truth in any illusion; there is always some persuasion in a fallacy. Our business is to distinguish between angels and devils.

Wow. Ariel or Caliban, indeed. This Principal Research Associate for the Center for Cognitive Science at MIT is suddenly sounding like a teacher of acting. The statement referencing some 'truth in any illusion' is a koan for every actor. As artists in the theatre, one of our primary tasks is nothing less than verisimilitude - making out of a fallacy, some reason. A tricky business. It's easy to get in the way of this process, to block the path. In rehearsals we have to be keenly aware of our own perceptions, our own given circumstances, assumptions, intuitions, 'gut-feelings'. By clocking all of that maybe then we can better focus on the character's perception, reality.

Piattelli-Palmarini also writes:
It seems that all of us employ, and pursue to their end, some genuine and easy (as well as fallacious) shortcuts in our minds. Finding a shortcut is usually a good thing, but in these cases the shortcuts serve to render our thinking accessible to correction; they lead us to quite different destinations from that at which we intended to arrive.

If you think you're free of cognitive illusions, answer these questions:

1) Reno is east or west of Los Angeles? (West)

2) Rome is north or south of New York? (North)

3) When you fly south from Detroit, what is the first country you encounter? (Canada)

4) The arch in St. Louis is higher than taller or taller than higher or equal? (Equal)

Finally, this quote from Piattelli-Palmarini:
This study, as well as others, shows that the discrepancy between correctness of response and overconfidence increases as the respondent is more knowledgeable. Those who know less have a reduced level of overconfidence. On the other hand, when the answer is more elaborate, requires considerable reasoning, and is based on specialized knowledge, the level of accuracy increases, yes, but the level of overconfidence increases to a far greater degree.

To amuse and demonstrate the power of optical or cognitive illusions, watch this:

Monday, March 26, 2007

Love of Our Money

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1912)

My, oh my, to be the Giberts.

Ben and Chariesse Gibert, to be exact, pastor and co-pastor of the 4,000 member Detroit World Outreach Church in the township of Redford, MI. The elders of this "church" - apostles of 'health and wealth' theology - have seen fit to purchase a 11,000 square foot, $3.65 million mansion, complete with 12 acres overlooking Maybury State Park, for the sermonizers. Removing the humble abode from the assessment rolls will cost the Township $40,000 annually in taxes. This in addition to the Gibert's $50,000 Cadillac Escalade, purchased earlier for the couple and their four little Giberts. So much for rendering unto Caesar...

Elder Marvin Wilder, a lawyer and general counsel for the church says,
In this country we value rock stars, movie stars and athletes. They can have a lavish lifestyle, and a pastor who restores lives that were broken shouldn’t? When our value system elevates a man who can put a ball in a hole and not a man who does God’s work, something is wrong.
What's wrong is that rock stars, movie stars, athletes, and people like you and me all pay taxes. Unlike this cult.

A suggestion for next Sunday's sermon: 1 Timothy 6:3-10.

Katie Couric: Bottom Feeder

Using the time-honored ploy of desperate journalists, Katie Couric CBS anchor and 60 Minutes reporter interviewed herself in a grilling of the Edwards' decision to stay in the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes despite the recent return of Elizabeth Edwards cancer. Throwing editorial comments willy-nilly, like a poor-man's radio shock jock, she peppered her comments with the tell-tale catch-all, "Some people..." Listen for yourself. Only 19 more months of this to go.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Flyover Animation

High-resolution images from NASA's MRO have been combined to provide this animated hypothetical flyover of Victoria Crater in Mars' Meridiani Planum region where the Mars Rover Opportunity has been exploring since September 2006. Opportunity has been examining the crater rim in a clockwise direction.

Victoria is about 800 meters (one-half mile) in diameter. This flyover approaches from the south, moving counterclockwise around part of the rim. Look for an enhanced glimpse of Opportunity where the rover was seen by the HRISE camera orbiting overhead.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Child Abuse: When adults do bad things to good children

Deuteronomy 5:8 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Somehow bible-thumpers find the most convoluted ways to ignore the most basic admonitions in their sacred text.

In a scene out of today's North Korea, or the Stalinist years, or '38 Munich - gaze upon and gasp at Jesus Camp:

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Leave Well Enough Alone

I've wanted George W. Bush impeached by the House and convicted by trial in the Senate since shortly after 9/11, and especially since our invasion of Iraq. But now in our seventh year of George The Lesser, I've changed my mind. The time for such an undertaking has past us by. After the mid-term elections, the dirty snow left on the Nation's shoulders from the Bush blizzard is rapidly melting away, and those craven democrats who sniveled their opposition to and enabled Gulf War II need to resist now the partisan urge to poke a stick into the wasp's nest of impeachment.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, (R. Neb.) in the current issue of Esquire:

The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore, he's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes.

Surprising words from a Reagan Republican in a safe seat. So why is impeachment a bad strategy? Again, Sen. Hagel:

[Unlike Vietnam] You don't have the draft, so you don't have that many people touched. This is a more sophisticated political divisiveness. It divides people from their government....You can't do anything about the president. He's gone. But you can do something about your congressman. That's why all these Republicans are so nervous.

Exactly. Impeaching this Chief Executive - let alone enduring the Senate trial to convict him - would be folly. It will hand the GOP exactly the ammunition they need to reload the Rovian Spin Cycle and shore up their coming vulnerability at the polls in 2008. Flushing away this excrement will be difficult enough if the democrats nominate Sen. Clinton as their standard bearer next year.

Leave well enough alone.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Welcome to the National ID Card

Ronald Reagan famously campaigned with the joke about the "10 most frightening words in the English language: I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help." Conservatives demonized the Federal Government for decades as inefficient, incompetent, even evil - but once in power and controlling both the executive and legislative branches of the same, they've given us the REAL ID Act of 2005. Homeland Security is attempting to pre-empt state-issued driver's licenses (and non-driver's identification cards) with a new, national standard. Like Russia under the Czar, we're about to create our own version of the internal passport. As a citizen of the United States of America (or as a non-citizen working here) you'll soon need a federally approved ID to board an aircraft, open a bank account, collect S.S. payments, access or use most government services. These electronically readable ID cards will be issued through our state motor vehicle agencies and most likely replace our driver's licenses. In addition to our new national ID number, Homeland Security is permitted to add additional identification and security requirements, such as a fingerprint or retinal scan. This is not sitting well in many corners. Check out the clip above for a protest in the Granite State, to prevent New Hampshire from participating in the plot. The new ID's are scheduled to be required by May 2008.

Conservative Hootenanny

Observe closely as The Nation's Max Blumenthal ("a goodlookin' fella") takes us on a trip through the Looking Glass with a tour of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Featuring Michelle Malkin, Grover Norquist, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, Ann Coulter, and many more. Watch and listen to the corrosive remnants of the Conservative movement.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Alien World; So Familiar

Upstaged by this week's beauty shots of its parent, Saturn, the largest moon of the same, Titan, continues to reveal wonders truly all its own.

Larger than our own Moon, larger than the first planet, Mercury, this moon of Saturn with its dense atmosphere of Nitrogen - so thick that if you could stand on Titan's surface it would feel like standing on the bottom of a swimming pool - has the only open bodies of liquid, besides Earth, yet discovered. Lakes and lakes of methane. Which means that Titan is also far, far colder than Antarctica. The island in the radar image above is roughly the size of the Big Island of Hawaii. These are some very large bodies of liquid methane.

Drainage streams, valleys, mile-high mountains, volcanoes - cryo-volcanoes, spewing ices - rocks made not of silicates, like here at home, but of water ice, and dunes, dunes, dunes, for thousands of miles.

What a world.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Cronos, Father of Zeus

After more than a year of study, the Cassini spacecraft has been climbing higher and higher (not to mention lower and lower) in its orbital plane with respect to the glorious sixth planet. With each orbit of Saturn, Cassini speeds past the ring plane and the cameras are able to look down (and up) providing images and perspectives high above - about 40 degrees - and below the same.

“Finally, here are the views that we've waited years for,” said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “Sailing high above Saturn and seeing the rings spread out beneath us like a giant, copper medallion is like exploring an alien world we've never seen before. It just doesn't look like the same place. It's so utterly breath-taking, it almost gives you vertigo.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

George Washington

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
--- George Washington, (signed by John Adams in 1796) Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11, 1797
It is worth noting the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, Barbary" when sent to the Senate for ratification, passed unanimously. Only the third such unanimous vote in the young Senate's history. The vote was unanimous without debate or dissent. Imagine the hew and cry by the present crop of American Puritans if such a vote, containing such language, were held today.

As we celebrate the birthday of our first President, at a time when wearing one's religion on one's sleeve is all the rage - NeoPuritans and Politicians alike - observe the death of the Father of our Country:

It is interesting to note that the Father of our Country spoke no words of a religious nature on his deathbed, although fully aware that he was dying, and did not ask for a man of God to be present; his last act was to take his own pulse, the consummate gesture of a creature of the age of scientific rationalism.
-- Brooke Allen, The Nation
If only we had leaders of such private and sterner stuff today. Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Monday, February 19, 2007

My Afternoon with a Poet Laureate

Mother of Georgia

I’ll always be grateful I had wine with lunch that day. Just enough wine, in fact, to loosen and relax my inhibitions sufficient unto gregariousness. Otherwise I’d never have walked up and simply presented myself to the poet laureate of the USSR. Let alone wind up spending the afternoon with him.

It’s early April 1990, Tbilisi, Georgia. Back when Georgia was still a Republic in a Soviet Socialist Union of the same. As my companion and I return from our repast to the InTourist (don’t ask) Hotel, I suddenly recognize the lanky figure unfolding himself from the cramped confines of the car stopped in front of us. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “that is the first poet to criticize Stalin, the artist who demanded literature should be judged by aesthetic, not political standards. The author of Babi Yar, the poem which inspired Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony!” Well - maybe if I’d been sober I’d have thought all of that. What really came into my mind and right out of my mouth was, “It’s him!” I dashed over to the thin, quiet man at the curb side, “Mr. Yevtushenko, I just want to shake your hand!” I exclaimed, extending my arm.

Looking up into those kind eyes, I remember thinking to myself how elfish he looked for a man so tall. He focused his attention on me for a second a two, broke into a smile, and in perfect English replied, “An American, how delightful; whatever brings you to Tbilisi?” And he shook my hand. I stammered something about being an actor in town shooting a children’s film in conjunction with Kartuli Telefilmi, with a cast of Georgians and Americans. Another, broader, smile, “These are remarkable times,” he said, “if you’ve finished filming for the day, why don’t you join me in my room for a glass of splendid Georgian wine?”

And I did. We scrupulously avoided any talk of politics – being an approved hotel for non-Soviets, the rooms were most likely bugged – this was confirmed as we entered the suite and he silently pointed to the ceiling, placing an index finger to his lips. Georgian independence was thick in the air all around Tbilisi during my time there, and I followed Yevtushenko’s lead. We spent the better part of an hour sipping a delightful vintage and discussing art, poetry and the indigenous people of Siberia (he was especially intrigued by my Yupik heritage.)

It was a meeting and an afternoon I shall never forget.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Public Profession; Private Man

We confuse celebrity with talent and artistry with commodity. This is somewhat understandable in the world of cinema where actors and performers are literally larger than life; arguably so in the weird, cool, bluish light of television; flat-assed wrong for people working on the stage.

In a universe where bottom-feeders like Perez Hilton [sic] shriek, "Why did you become an actor, then?!" - where preadolescent girls are answering career queries with the response, "I want to be a celebrity." - Where older, injury-challenged professional sports players muse into microphones, "I guess I'll become an actor." - it's time to draw a line in the sand.

As a successful stage actor, I live out in the Kuiper Belt of somebody-ness, yet even here in the cold, dark region of attention-getting the feature writers and publicity managers of our newspapers and theaters want to know more. About. Me.

That makes it considerably harder to do my job. My job is to sublimate myself and allow the character to step forward. I become a vessel - hopefully - where the ghosts of these varied creatures I portray may inhabit, allowing us to become a spokesman for the creator - the playwright. The less known about me, the better to suspend your disbelief and convince you I'm the character you're listening to and watching. I want your attentions to center on the ideas of the play, not on my comments to a journalist. It isn't about me.

And, yes, I am aware that blogging is a profoundly public and revealing act; but I'm in control here and this is as far down the beach as you may go...

On Climbing In Trees


And when you rise from water in the evening
(For you must all be naked, with soft skin)
Climb up your big trees while a very gentle
Wind blows; and the sky should be quite pale.
Seek out the bigger trees with tops that rock
Slowly and blackly in the evening air.
And in their foliage await the nightfall
With wraith and bat hovering about your brows.


The little leaves of the undergrowth are brittle.
They’ll cut and scratch your backs which you must heave
Up through the branches; thus it is you clamber
Not without groaning, higher up the tree.
To rock oneself on the tree is quite delightful.
But do not flex your knees to do this! No,
Let the tree be to you what it is to the treetop:
Each evening, for centuries, it has rocked it.

-- Bertolt Brecht

Critics and Theatre

Critics and artists are binary star systems, circling in tight orbit, one the other. In some creative fields a gravitational symmetry is struck, but it is in the theatre where the greatest unbalance and distance between the circling partners occurs. Reviewers are White Dwarfs using their exigence to diminish the Gas Giants of theatre people, seeking to occasionally shine more brightly than the artists they're covering. American Theatre does not suffer a lack of gifted artists or a lessened level of thoughtfulness or proceed with immature silliness. The Theatre is haunted by illiterate, apathetic, and unsupported criticism. To quote Robert Brustein,
I am not talking about boosterism or cheerleading; I am speaking of the kind of intelligent support that F. R. Leavis once gave to D. H. Lawrence, Edmund Wilson gave to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and George Jean Nathan gave to Eugene O’Neill, the intelligent mentoring that helped these writers to learn and to grow. What we have instead today is something I have come to call Himalaya criticism, after Danny Kaye’s famous rejoinder, when he was asked how he liked the Himalayas: "Loved him, hated her." In other words, thumbs up, thumbs down. Judgments based on ignorance, arrogance, and relentless opinionating.
We return then to the Colosseum where the Emperor’s mood, whim, or agenda on any given time and day determines worth. The focus is no longer on the performer, but rather on the celebrity nastiness, ego and attentional needs of the destroying angel – the White Dwarf – of the Reviewer. It becomes all about them and not about the art.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Friends and Relationships

Trust is not commanded, it is an act of creation. It is earned. Just as the accretion of trust over time is a gradual affair, like some stalactite growing in a cavern chamber deep within, its abrupt loss can be seismic; great chunks of inner strata suddenly fracture, smash to the floor and the very bedrock of one’s soul may shift and realign. Old bridges collapse; new cracks and faultlines appear.

It can break your heart.